Biggest government problem in ‘carbon clothing’



A regular series from Goodman Property examining environmental sustainability and how New Zealand businesses are working to get us there.

Today: Fashion and textiles.

The problem: Waste, environmental impact, global warming and climate change. The expert: Bernadette Casey, sustainable development consultant and co-founder of Used Fully, a low-carbon clothing system where textiles are used to their full potential.


Fashion and clothing generate more emissions than air and sea travel combined.

The problems:

  • The fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than international air and sea travel combined.
  • 80 to 100 billion pieces of clothing are made each year, but on average are worn only seven times. This will soon grow to 150 billion articles.
  • New Zealand sends about 100,000 tonnes of clothing to landfill each year, or about 44 kg per person.
  • Textiles create around three times their weight in CO2 in landfills. Thus, while they represent 5 to 6% of landfills, they produce around 30% of carbon impacts.
  • The t-shirt you no longer wear also took two and a half years of clean water to produce.
  • But we don’t have a clear plan of what to do.

The government – the country’s largest buyer of textiles and clothing – is moving too slowly to tackle the carbon impact resulting from what Kiwis wear.

That’s the claim by Deborah Crowe, of sustainability consultancy Formary and Used Fully Casey, who says the government is not addressing the environmental aspects of clothing – and does not yet have a plan to do so. .

Casey says the government’s supply of textiles and clothing means this is New Zealand’s largest: “So, yes, we have the fashion industry, the national clothing fashion, but we have also all linens, towels and linen that we buy. .

“Then we have our commercial textiles which are all the hotels and their linens and towels. Then we have the public markets which are all police uniforms, all PPE, DHB sheets, DHB towels, military , prisons and so on.

“So fashion, in terms of the impacts of the textile sector, is only part of the whole industry and is not responsible for everything.”

Crowe says the impact of textiles is “one of our biggest issues when it comes to carbon emissions and water use and uses virgin resources. Polyester, acrylic and nylon are all petroleum products, so… things that we really need to take a close look at.

“Textiles are fundamentally the biggest contributor to our carbon emissions, after our food waste – it’s more than our global shipping and aviation industry combined. There really is some handy fruit here that we can do things about. The majority of people and the majority of organizations are simply not aware of the impact of textiles. “

This, says Crowe, includes the government: “We found in our research that maybe two-thirds of our textiles actually come from corporate uniforms, hotel linens, and hospital linens. complex mixtures.

“They are definitely a problem and get a lot of attention. What doesn’t get enough attention is the impact of our corporate, government and consultancy purchases and the use of our hotels, nursing homes, DHB, that sort of thing. We’ve found that this is where we start to focus a lot of our energy and effort – to help businesses understand that they can really make a difference. significant.

“We may be a sustainability consultancy, but we are really more in the realm of hope and potential. “

The two women say New Zealand lags behind Europe when it comes to sustainability in fashion and clothing. Europe has already imposed a textile landfill ban, which will come into effect in 2025 to allow industry to put in place systems, processes and funding.

“In terms of high impact industries, you have the energy sector which is oil, transport, everything related to energy; you have the agriculture sector and then you have the textile sector – so that’s a big three, ”says Casey. “Europe has this ban from 2025 but in New Zealand textiles are unfortunately not really on the radar.

Crowe says: “Unfortunately, in New Zealand it took a long time for our government to realize that this was really a problem and was just not high on their agenda.

“The kind of infrastructure support that we need, well people are just starting to understand… that kind of infrastructure needs funding. Right now we’re working with the government, with advice on how to put these things in place. and run and they get there slowly – but it’s taking a lot longer than we would like. “

Meanwhile, Meredith Dawson-Laurie, head of sustainability for groundbreaking sustainable fashion brand Icebreaker, says there are steps individuals can take that will make a difference in the carbon in our clothing.

Consumers need to know if they are buying from brands that have sustainable practices. She also recommends taking more care of clothes, including not washing them too much: “There is now a lot of data on how we wash our clothes too much – we wear them once and it might not even be. not a full day and people are throwing things in it. washing machine.

“Every time we wash clothes we use a lot of energy, a lot of water. All clothes lose microfibers and our clothes lose natural microfibers, but when we wash synthetic clothes they actually lose microplastics. “

The volume of production within the apparel industry has just increased dramatically over the past two decades, she says, and about 60% of garments made from plastic: “Ultimately, synthetic fabrics are so much cheaper to produce and, in turn, they are not valued as much.

“I think as consumers the best thing we can do is try to value our clothes more … plus, we’ll actually want to keep them longer, we’ll be more motivated to cherish them, repair if they are damaged or pass them on to someone else if we no longer need them. “

Footprint: Business Sustainability is a new podcast series from Newstalk ZB and Goodman Property. Episode 5: Fashion and textiles.


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